BARCELONA, Spain – The recent ratifications of 5G standards by 3GPP has resulted in a more cohesive push behind the new wireless technology at this year’s Mobile World Congress 2018 event. It has also put the spotlight on the software needed to support the new network architecture and plans for new services.
John Lenns, vice president for policy management solutions at Oracle, said this year’s event has moved from being a lot of “hand waving” around what 5G might be and more about what 5G will be.
“We are easing into it, and there is still a focus by operators in using what they have already deployed in the core of their networks. But with so much bandwidth set to become available with the new radios, we are seeing compelling use cases emerge,” Lenns said.
He noted that network slicing was one of those components that will allow for those use cases, which itself is possible “because of software.”
Lenns said software-defined networking (SDN) has become an important piece of the 5G evolution. He noted that today many of the more progressive operators are solely focused on acquiring only virtualized components from vendors that can run on the operators’ own hardware.
“These operators are not buying big iron anymore,” Lenns explained. “They are telling us that their bosses won’t let them buy the non-virtualized version of these platforms.”
A second component is the ability for operators to orchestrate services running across their new network architectures. Lenns said this was still a work in progress, but that at least there are standards in place that define the process. He cited VMware, KVM, and ONAP as examples of these efforts.
“The standards define how to do it theoretically, and some are pushing ahead to deploy orchestration capabilities,” Lenns said. “They are learning along the way, and some of the big boys are really putting money in it to learn.”
This push is leading into the third step, which Lenns said will be deciding when to deploy the new functionalities in 5G to enable network slicing based on microservices architecture. This will allow operators to only turn on the functionality they need, when they need it. Lenns said he expects this deployment to mirror the timeline of 5G deployments.
The move toward microservices will also require a greater use of container platforms. These efforts have been going on for some time with vendors, especially those with cloud assets that allow for experimentation. But, it’s also beginning to move into the operator community.
“It’s still early in the process,” Lenns said. “Many are still trying to get comfortable with containers and finding out how to leverage containers in the most cost-effective manner.”
Lenns said he expects these early container-enhanced deployments to center on software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms before moving onto “private cloud and on-premises virtualized solutions.”
“SaaS is a much more controlled environment,” Lenns said. “We are learning a lot this way on security, rolling out new functionality with low latency, and installing into the network very rapidly.”
Lenns said he expects to see a number of 5G proof of concepts (PoCs) targeted at core elements over the next year. These efforts should prove out some of the functionality written into the 3GPP standards and what use cases can be supported.
“We will be on the other side of the wave at next year’s show and be able to see where operators will be spending money,” he said.
The Internet of Things (IoT) space is likely to be an area where money is spent. Lenns said he expects growth in the availability of devices for supporting IoT networks and more importantly the ability to have greater control over those devices. “The IoT space is going to get a bit more this year,” he said, noting that even at this year’s show he was seeing more actual IoT demonstrations instead of just box diagrams.
Instead, those box diagrams this year are being reserved for ideas on analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). Lenns said he expects those to become live demonstrations next year and could provide the impetus behind real use case progress for 5G.